This year’s astronomical Spring might have officially started on March 20, 2012, but real Spring weather came to Vienna a few days earlier. The temperatures were in the low 20s (low 70s F) and cloudless skies and warm sunlight complemented the beauty of the surrounding cityscape.
We did not neglect the opportunity to relax a bit and slept in right through check-out time (noon). Of course, such procrastination only meant that we couldn’t walk to all places we wanted to visit, so we drove around in our car to save time.
First on our list was Kunsthaus Wien, hosting the world’s most comprehensive collection of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s whimsical art, including key paintings as well as graphic works, applied art and examples of the artist’s ecological commitment. The unusual design of the museum is a reflection of Hundertwasser’s style, with trees sprouting through dancing windows on a colorful checkerboard mosaic-lined facade.Each element of the building embodies the artist’s philosophy: he believed a house should consist out of windows (as opposed to walls) and windows in even rows and columns were ‘sad’ and ‘a characteristic of concentration camps’. The tree tenants growing out of windows have a special meaning too: they are a ‘piece of nature’ in a ‘sterile city desert’, creating oxygen and acting like ‘vacuum cleaners’ for city dwellers nearby. The notable lack of straight lines is not limited to the building exterior. There are tiled wavy floors throughout the inside, which were meant to help visitors regain their ‘human balance’ while walking on the uneven surface.Miss Z. had fallen asleep in the car and Hubs stayed to keep her company, so I had a very brief visit. I skipped the actual exhibition and spent time mostly admiring the facade and browsing the selection in the gift shop, which ranged from calendars and posters to wine glasses and t-shirts all created in Hundertwasser’s hallmark style. Besides the gift shop, there is also a cozy cafe-restaurant set in the backyard amid abundant plant life reminiscent of a winter garden or a Downtown oasis. There was hardly anyone at that time of day, which can appeal to those looking forward to enjoy a meal or a drink in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere in central Vienna. KunstHaus Wien is located within a close reach from the InnerStadt, in a low-key residential area of the the Landstrasse district (Untere Weißgerberstraße 13). Opening times are 10am – 7pm, daily (8pm for the cafe) and combo regular ticket for both permanent and temporary exhibitions costs 12 euro. The Landstrasse district boasts another example of Hundertwasser’s architectural ideas and concepts. The like-named Hundertwasserhaus is a public housing complex with a colorful patchwork facade of irregular patterns and varied window shapes. Within the house there are 52 apartments and four offices, occupied by approximately 200 people. I couldn’t peek inside for obvious reasons, but I wandered around snapping photos like the rest of the visitors did. To relieve the inhabitants of the tourist overload, a shopping arcade was constructed opposite Hundertwasserhaus. Shortly after the conversion of the building in 1985 the critics were quick to dismiss the result as kitsch. Nevertheless, the unconventional residence turned out to be one of Vienna’s most visited buildings and after more than a quarter of century of existence, it has become part of Austria’s cultural heritage. Speaking of cultural heritage, there hardly is a landmark more significant in all of Austria, than the Schonbrunn Palace. We had planned to visit in the next stop of our quick-fix itinerary, but when we got there and saw the lines of tourist buses in front and hordes of people all around, we unanimously decided to save our visit there for a future trip. We headed for the Innere Stadt or the Old Town instead; the historic core of the city, which unsurprisingly concentrates the vast majority of Vienna’s sightseeing attractions. Among these is arguably the most important religious building in the Austrian capital – St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), situated in the very heart of the city – at Stephansplatz.The cathedral is built of limestone, and stands136 meters tall at its highest point. Over the years, air pollution accumulating on the church have given it a black color, but recent restoration projects have returned parts of the building to its original white. A little known fact about the cathedral is that it exists in its current state since 1948, when it was restored after the original structure had been severely damaged in a fire and virtually reduced to rubble. The interior of the cathedral is equally stunning – 18 altars just in the main hall, 6 formal chapels, multiple tombs, catacombs and crypts, surrounded by a wealth of art treasures (some of which can only be seen through a guided tour) and masterworks of Gothic and Baroque sculptures and stone carvings. Judging by the pictures above the church appears to be virtually empty, but that’s because the crowds stood behind camera, segregated from the main areas by a fence. I believe there was a way to get inside the fenced area, as I saw a couple of tourists wondering around there, but I am not sure what the procedure to get inside is. I could tell you, however, that it costs 8 euro to climb up (with an elevator) to the top of the Stephansdome North tower, from where a view of the old city and Stephansplatz opens up. While the entire area up there is secured throughout, I do not recommend the climb to people with a fear of heights as you could see everything under your feet while walking in/out of the elevator.Vienna is not famous for any unusually tall buildings and skyscrapery architecture, as a result the view of the skyline is rather uninteresting. We did get pretty close to admire the Cathedral ornately patterned, richly colored roof, which is an artwork, composed of 230,000 glazed tiles.
Enjoying as much as three million visitors per year, Stephensdome is a true tourist destination, which can certainly lessen its allure to some travelers. But the opening hours are pretty generous – 6am through 10pm (7am on Sundays) and a walk around the main hall is free so if you would visit only one such touristy place in Vienna, I suggest make that Stephensdome.
Besides cultural attractions at every step, the Innere Stadt is literally overflowing with sidewalk cafes, wine bars and pastry shops and is an ideal place to stop and relax for a while. The side streets are lined with flower and produce shops, bakeries, chocolateries, antique stores and independent clothing boutiques.Excellent dining options and high end shopping venues are just around the corner from the most desirable and important sightseeing locations.We only had an hour to stroll through the Old town and absorb the warmth of the first Spring sun but did not miss the opportunity to try out a delicious apfelstrudel in one of the cafes nearby. A nice, albeit brief, date with friends followed; it was the grand finale to our beautiful weekend in Vienna and our last stop before heading for the airport.